“Rabbit…Celery…Sendgrid…Redis…and workers, lots of workers, two boxes, another box.”
These are just some of the words that marked my tech baptisim.
I knew that when I joined a tech startup from an agency there would be some changes coming my way, but somehow I never imagined it would take me eight months and counting to get a basic handle (well, loose handle) on the vocabulary we use to talk about the tech that powers the products we’re building.
Since becoming Percolate’s first designer last July I’ve been working out how best to contribute to a technology company. I was recently invited to share my experience at the Design + Startup event hosted by IDEO and FRC. This nudged me to get my thoughts in order on the role of design at a company like Percolate. Here we go.
Meet team Percolate
Let’s start with the facts. We’re 11 and growing across product and sales teams (4 Developers, 1 Mathematician, 1 Product Lead, 1 Program Manager, 1 Designer, 3 Sales). We have come together from the corners of finance, technology, publishing, advertising and design.
As our team continues to grow one of our biggest challenges remains: figure out how best to work together. There is plenty of talk about building your company around a design / user experience culture, but when you take a moment to catch up on this it can leave you scratching your head on what to do first, and what is right for your team.
We knew we wanted to establish that design at Percolate would stand for more than a great product, more than a UX methodology and more than visual consistency. But what we didn’t know at first was how it would contribute to our day to day approach, what would it bring to the table for the wider team?
The stuff we’ve learned
Design changes the way people approach their work. I’m not talking about your team crafting work to satisfy guidelines, I’m talking about how it helps to break information down to make it more intuitive, and how it gives people confidence to execute great sales pitches. Here are three ways we’ve seen design change our approach:
1. Design gives everyone great materials
We want to look after our clients, we want to share with them the thought we put into helping them get the most out of Percolate; from their first impression to monthly progress updates and beyond.
Percolate Demo – Our sales team needed to show the power of our service in a simple way that would give people a sense of learning. We built a step by step interactive demo around a fictional soap brand, who wanted to raise their eco-credentials by publishing great content.
Percolate Onboarding – Once we have calibrated a client’s dashboard they’re all set to start publishing, all we need to do is deliver the key (that confirmation email). We recently decided our plain text email approach wasn’t up to scratch. Creating a walk through of the publishing communities that power their Percolate engine hosted by Biggie Smalls most definitely is.
Percolate Network Graphs – How’s Percolate working for you? That’s the big question we need to keep asking editors to ensure we’re presenting them the most interesting stories. We have started to create network graphs to show editors the sources that are influencing their publishing the most. From here we have a great framework to discuss, learn and fine tune their sources.
Our takeaway here is design has to go beyond your core products: It has to arm your sales team to do the best work they can. Once you start making these materials together, maintaining these standards becomes everyone’s responsibility.
2. Design moves specs to stories
First of all you should meet Greg, the guy doing the Ace Ventura impression below. He is our Program Manager at Percolate, this means he looks after all our clients technical needs. He’s in the engine room all day setting up accounts and making sure everything is ticking over just fine, he’s working with development partners and he’s scoping out internal and client facing tools.
When we first started working together he would present the team user flows for upcoming tools. These were highly detailed diagrams, with every use case considered and documented in one place. Whilst these were clearly a work of art, they were also overwhelming and we found our energy went into breaking down the complexity.
Since then, we’ve all hung out some more and moved from complexity into digestible chunks of information. Now we’re moving towards introducing a narrative around specs to ground our objectives, to introduce the use cases before revealing the top level experience blow for blow. We’re getting to a really great place, our reviews are more productive and we’re making better stuff.
The thing to remember here is that everyone in your team hasn’t been thinking about the user in the same way in previous roles and companies. Introducing a product story framework to your team’s approach will boost the productivity of your working sessions.
3. Design adds an extra ‘give a damn’
We’ve always liked the color grey at Percolate, you know, it helps keeps things calm. Although the team wasn’t quite expecting we’d need to use 7 tones when we redesigned our dashboard. I thought crafting our interface was a pretty big deal, so with encouragement of Guillaume (our front-end developer) I made some charts to prove our grey theory, thankfully everyone agreed.
This isn’t about about a designer using too many greys. This is about encouraging your team to care about everything, this may well start with calling out that a panel color is the wrong grey, or that a line of type needs to come down 5 pixels. These small details can feel pretty insignificant when the product team is in the heat of a release, but sharing these observations are important and help shape the type of team you’re building.
Sure, you don’t want to build a culture where everyone is picking up a megaphone, barking at each other when something needs fixing. You do want to grow a team that feels good about challenging the approach you’re taking to a sales presentation, or the approach you take to scoping product features and putting together onboarding documents.
Why all of this matters to you
These are just three ways how one skill set has begun to help shape our culture at Percolate. When thinking about the culture you’re building at your company, take a look at the qualities of the people across you’re team, understand their personality traits, best habits and approaches to work and think how the wider team can benefit.
These are the qualities to form the foundations of your company, these are the qualities you need to work hard to develop and scale as you grow and bring people in with new skill sets. This is how we’re building our culture at Percolate.
If you give a damn and are keen to invent the future of publishing, you should probably apply to the openings we have at Percolate. We look forward to hearing from you.